Our turnaround year – North Balwyn’s story

by Team BV

How did North Balwyn BC do it? They had had seven successive years of membership losses.
Then in 2014-15, they recruited an incredible 54 new bowling members.
North Balwyn membership director Rob Roberts takes the time to explain to Bowls Victoria how it was done:
When a new Board of Management was elected in May, 2014, the club’s new president asked all directors to come to the first meeting and identify the major challenges and opportunities they saw within their respective portfolio areas. A consensus was reached after discussion with each member developing a personal action plan for the coming year.
Three major strategic challenges jumped out:
1. The urgent need to stem the continuing membership decline and return a modest gain in the year ahead – an essential ingredient to justify major capital works envisaged for the club.
2. To develop recommendations and obtain membership approval for replacement of two major greens which were nearing the end of their effective life.
3. To cooperate with Boroondara Council in a half million dollar refurbishment of the clubhouse.
Together, these initiatives were expected to provide state of the art facilities at the club.
Items 2 and 3 were completed as planned during the year.
Here’s a detailed outline of the recruitment process undertaken:
 A $6,000 budget was allocated to support a recruitment program put forward by the Membership Director who was to undertake responsibility for its execution. All outlined action then fell within his domain.
 The Membership Director appointed a small sub- committee to assist in the execution of the plan.
 At the outset, we made a strategic decision regarding our recruitment focus. While we recognised the average age of our existing membership was uncomfortably high, we decided to strive for across the board growth in numbers rather than specifically target younger recruiting sources – relying on overall age dispersion to provide its quota of younger joins.
 Next, we identified the need to lift and strengthen our club’s profile within the local community. We decided to undertake a complete rebranding exercise and, to this end, worked with a friendly advertising agency (at mate’s rates) to come up with professional design recommendations. Following our brief, they did a terrific job in this and thereafter produced the artwork for vibrant new signage, literature and all elements of club presentation and publicity. With one or two longer term exceptions, all have now been introduced.
 New colourful signage, with a “Play Bowls, Make Friends” theme which encapsulates the essence of our club, attracted immediate attention from our members, the local community and some neighbouring bowls clubs. It has also done much in raising general member interest in our recruitment efforts and encouraging referrals, as well as in attracting more drop-in traffic to the club.
 The new presentation has been adopted to date in:
On-site club signage
Off-site (Open Day) sign boards
Letter box leaflets
Shop window signs
Club brochures
Display banners
Club letterheads and stationery
Club hats and caps
(Website and other uniform elements will to be progressively introduced)
 Two Open Days were staged (October and March) with discounted offers for those registering interest on the day and joining within three weeks. These days generated about half our year’s joins. Successful events.
 Sponsored off-site Sign Boards, letter box drops and an excellent radio interview were used to publicise the Open Days. Member introductions at the events were also very productive.
 Last year we also stepped up our emphasis on Friday afternoon Drop-in Bowls for newcomers. These sessions were publicised through free local paper inserts and A-Frame signs outside the club and attracted growing popularity. Visitors spent a supervised session on the green followed by a social drink with other members in the clubhouse – giving life to our “Play Bowls, Make Friends” proposition.
 As with most club endeavours, existing member introductions and involvement were most important throughout. As our recruitment success grew throughout the year, member interest lifted and “success began to breed success”. We used regular updates in our monthly member newsletter to keep our membership informed of progress.
 As always, there were two criteria for turning a plan into reality which we had to consider at the outset: ensuring that the demands of the plan were within the capacity of the team to deliver on them (if not, better to scale them back) and our commitment to observe disciplined execution and attention to the numerous “one-percenters” along the way.
The net outcome of the above, which was supported by an enthusiastic band of member volunteers, was 54 recruitments for the year.
Member Retention:
As members grew it quickly became apparent that their assimilation and retention were key priorities so that the early gains were not dissipated. Apart from our regular Friday afternoon supervised sessions for new bowlers, we felt the need to forge tighter links with them and so set up the following further initiatives:
 A New Bowler Recognition Evening was staged in December especially for the newcomers to emphasise their welcome and importance to our club. A number of experienced members who agreed to become mentors to the newcomers also attended to help host the night. The format was a 5.00-6.30pm informal game for all on the greens with the mentors as skips, followed by a BBQ and complimentary drinks in the clubrooms until about nine thirty. Informal networking was encouraged and a brief presentation given on how to get most from club membership and on game development. The newcomers very much appreciated the evening’s gesture and confirmed the worth of the event.
 Again, with a view to solidifying links prior to fee renewal date, a well-constructed five week Bowler Development Program was introduced from mid-February for our new (and newish) bowlers – another successful undertaking which also helped advance their bowling skills and set them up for valuable practice games during our coming winter social bowls program and hopefully see many of them ready for Pennant next session.
 Retention remains a non-ending challenge covering all membership categories but especially the newer members. We must continue to fulfil our promise of “Play Bowls, Make Friends”. We believe we are doing so at this time, as evidenced by new-year renewals of 50 of the 54 new bowlers signed during the last 12 months!
The Coming Years:
With our clubhouse renovations completed and our two new state of the art KCL synthetic greens due to be available by this season, our 2015/16 emphasis will be three-fold:
 Maintain pressure on new bowler recruitment and retention to achieve a further, if somewhat more modest, net gain. In particular, to continually aim at bringing down the average age of our membership which showed some reduction with last year’s recruits but will remain an ongoing challenge for some years to come. We have in train a number of fresh initiatives and refinements for 2015/16 but in general will build on the approach which served us well in the year just past.
 Attract experienced bowlers seeking a new experience, especially those who live in our close neighbourhood, via special events and the appeal of our facilities and new KCL greens which will closely replicate grass green behaviour.
 In light of our increasing membership, to be especially alert to protecting and enhancing the hallmark of North Balwyn – its warm and friendly integrated culture – something so often commented upon by our new members and visitors to our club. It’s what makes our “Play Bowls, Make Friends” mantra credible.
This paper has focused on our bowling membership over the 2014/15 year but alongside this, social membership has grown by an incredible 70 members in the past 12 months due entirely to the establishment of a tremendously successful Bridge activity introduced and developed by one enthusiastic and energetic longer-standing member whose input has been amazing. This was a further fantastic outcome in the club’s Turnaround Year and one that should not go unnoticed!
(Bridge players are required to take up Social Membership and while not many graduate to bowling in their own right, their favourable experience at our club potentially introduces us to a broader community of prospective future candidates from their networks.)
We can help:
North Balwyn BC president Bruce Hexter adds: “We’re very happy to be asked for greater detail by other clubs to assist them. We want to see bowls not just survive, but thrive.”